Conceived by an advertising agency in 1972, Schoolhouse Rocks was an incredible success. Based on the idea that children remembered songs, even when they couldn't remember math, the original concept was to set the multiplication tables to music and release it as a record. Based on the strength of the lyric, storyboards were drawn and the whole idea was pitched to ABC's vice-president of children's programming Michael Eisner (who now heads Disney and ABC).
The reason Schoolhouse Rock was such a success came from the fact that it never talked down to children. It presented advanced ideas (like earning interest on money or passing a bill) in their simplest form. The fact all forms of music often accompanied them meant that several generations were also introduced to their fist taste of country, jazz, rock and other types of music.
For the 30th anniversary of the series, Disney has released all 46 original episodes and created a new episode as well. All your favorites are here and can be viewed in any number of ways. The first disc has the main 47 features that can be accessed several ways. You can play all, shuffle all, or pick the order you want to view the Top 10 in. It doesn't matter if Conjunction Junction or Three is the Magic Number was your favorite because they're all here and looking perfect.
On the second disc, the material is almost too much to watch. There are other cartoons included like Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips and the Weather Show. Scooter Computer is a hip teenage kid that has a talking computer named Mr. Chips. Together they teach the basics of a then emerging technology. Hardware and software are explained and Mr. Chips explains he is only as friendly as he's been programmed, thus keeping kids everywhere from having HAL9000 inspired nightmares. The Weather Show is billed as a long lost song and it effectively teaches you about weather related terms.
The most enjoyable feature on the second disc has to be the behind the scenes feature. Filmed while recording the music and dialog for the new Electoral College cartoon, you'll be surprised to see the faces behind the familiar voices of Schoolhouse Rock. Jack Sheldon is readily recognizable as the visual inspiration for some of the characters and despite Bob Dorough's age, his voice is as bright and young as ever when he launches into Three is the Magic Number.
Not even close to being done, there is also a short on the team being nominated for an Emmy Award and what would any good DVD be without audio commentary. Several of the cartoons are available with commentary on the second disc and the creators share the story behind the creation of them. For instance, Conjunction Junction was animated with the stop-and-go style of the train cars for budgetary reasons. Time with the music, most would never notice the stop-frame animation as opposed to the full thing.
Four music videos from the Schoolhouse Rock Rocks audio CD produced a few years ago are included. There are also several Arrange-A-Song puzzles and a Trivia Game. In a move that Nike has just got to love, their commercial using Three is the Magic Number is included. Lastly, there is a nice 5.1 DTS mix of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College" included on the second disc as well.
If you grew up, remember or have heard of Schoolhouse Rock then you should immediately buy this set. It's a great piece of nostalgia that still remains perfectly relevant today. If you have kids and you're tired of Barney, Teletubbies or whatever beast is the subject of the latest marketing fad I suggest picking this disc up as well. Your young ones will be singing and dancing along in no time, oblivious to the education they'll soaking up all the while. At least pick the set up and play one of the two-minute episodes between your children's Saturday morning cartoons. There's no reason everyone can't have a little fun.
The Video: Presented in the original full-screen, these cartoons have never looked better. Some fare worse than others because of their age, but all have been beautifully restored. Colors are bright and edges are sharp. There is a little muddiness to the picture at time on the older episodes and the newer ones fare much better. Overall it's a transfer that does these cartoons the justice they deserve.
The Audio: The audio has been re-mastered in a great sounding Dolby Digital mix that makes the songs really stand out. All the lyrics and music sound great. There are no flaws, other than a reduced volume level, on any of the songs.
Extras: The second disc is packed with extras as I explained in the later part of the review. Also included is a 12-page booklet that has brief article on the history of the series. It also lists the features in the DVD, the lyrics to the Top 10 songs, lyrics to the Electoral College song, and the titles to all 46 original Schoolhouse Rock episodes.
Overall: What's not to like? With all the episodes and
plenty of extras, the set is one that belongs in everyone's collection.
If you remember them from your childhood or simply want something for your child,
you'll have a hard time finding a better and more enjoyable set than this.
This is definitely a Collector's Series addition.